For the first time, a woman has been appointed as head of the Caritas Internationalis network of official Catholic relief and development agencies.
Lesley-Anne Knight, aged 51, who is based in Zimbabwe, and who has worked for many years with UK-based CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas Development), has been announced as the new secretary of the confederation.
Ms Knight was elected to head up Caritas Internationalis at at the end of a General Assembly held over the past few days in the Vatican.
Lesley-Anne Knight worked for 25 years with CAFOD, where she was International Director. She succeeds Duncan MacLaren at Caritas, which also elected as its new president the Honduran Cardinal Archbishop Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.
The newly elected secretary general said: "Caritas is a treasure. I look forward with great honour to the next four years at Caritas Internationalis. The work we do here has a lasting impact on the lives of the poor, and I feel humbled to be given this responsibility by my brothers and sisters in the Caritas family."
She added: "Our priorities in the confederation will be humanitarian emergencies, integral development of the local communities and peace building. Not as diverse pieces of work, but as all part of the same programme that will help the poor transform their own lives."
Ms Knight concluded: "Caritas will intensify its internal coordination, the capacity to create awareness to achieve its potential and transform the world through faith in Jesus Christ".
CAFOD is an agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.